Quotes & Sayings

We, and creation itself, actualize the possibilities of the God who sustains the world, towards becoming in the world in a fuller, more deeper way. - R.E. Slater

There is urgency in coming to see the world as a web of interrelated processes of which we are integral parts, so that all of our choices and actions have [consequential effects upon] the world around us. - Process Metaphysician Alfred North Whitehead

Kurt Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem says (i) all closed systems are unprovable within themselves and, that (ii) all open systems are rightly understood as incomplete. - R.E. Slater

The most true thing about you is what God has said to you in Christ, "You are My Beloved." - Tripp Fuller

The God among us is the God who refuses to be God without us, so great is God's Love. - Tripp Fuller

According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater

Our eschatological ethos is to love. To stand with those who are oppressed. To stand against those who are oppressing. It is that simple. Love is our only calling and Christian Hope. - R.E. Slater

Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger

Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton

I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – Anon

Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII

Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut

Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest

We become who we are by what we believe and can justify. - R.E. Slater

People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – Anon

Certainly, God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater

An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater

Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann

Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner

“Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh” means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14) or, conversely, “I AM who I AM Becoming.”

Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton

The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens, we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – Anon

The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul

The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah

If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – Anon

Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord

Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another, so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

To promote societal transition to sustainable ways of living and a global society founded on a shared ethical framework which includes respect and care for the community of life, ecological integrity, universal human rights, respect for diversity, economic justice, democracy, and a culture of peace. - The Earth Charter Mission Statement

Christian humanism is the belief that human freedom, individual conscience, and unencumbered rational inquiry are compatible with the practice of Christianity or even intrinsic in its doctrine. It represents a philosophical union of Christian faith and classical humanist principles. - Scott Postma

It is never wise to have a self-appointed religious institution determine a nation's moral code. The opportunities for moral compromise and failure are high; the moral codes and creeds assuredly racist, discriminatory, or subjectively and religiously defined; and the pronouncement of inhumanitarian political objectives quite predictable. - R.E. Slater

God's love must both center and define the Christian faith and all religious or human faiths seeking human and ecological balance in worlds of subtraction, harm, tragedy, and evil. - R.E. Slater

In Whitehead’s process ontology, we can think of the experiential ground of reality as an eternal pulse whereby what is objectively public in one moment becomes subjectively prehended in the next, and whereby the subject that emerges from its feelings then perishes into public expression as an object (or “superject”) aiming for novelty. There is a rhythm of Being between object and subject, not an ontological division. This rhythm powers the creative growth of the universe from one occasion of experience to the next. This is the Whiteheadian mantra: “The many become one and are increased by one.” - Matthew Segall

Without Love there is no Truth. And True Truth is always Loving. There is no dichotomy between these terms but only seamless integration. This is the premier centering focus of a Processual Theology of Love. - R.E. Slater


Note: Generally I do not respond to commentary. I may read the comments but wish to reserve my time to write (or write from the comments I read). Instead, I'd like to see our community help one another and in the helping encourage and exhort each of us towards Christian love in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. - re slater

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Gift of Reading the Bible Dynamically

is there payoff for the church in reading the Bible critically?

Theologian Peter Enns
At this year’s annual “help me I’m wearing tweed in San Diego” conference (a.k.a. Society of Biblical Literature) I was part of a panel discussion on “Reading the Bible in the 21st Century: Exploring New Models for Reconciling the Academy and the Church.” On the panel with me were N. T. Wright, Barbara Brown Taylor, and Lauren Winner. John Dominic Crossan was scheduled to be there but his flight was delayed.
At any rate, we were each given 10 minutes to address the topic and here is what I said.
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About 10 years ago a friend of mine, who teaches systematic theology at an evangelical seminary, told me of a faculty meeting held to discuss my recently published book Inspiration and Incarnation.
During the faculty discussion, a biblical scholar pointed out, “You know, there’s really nothing new here”—which, of course is not only true, but largely the point of the book: well known and widely accepted things like the presence of myth, contradictions, and numerous historical problems in the Old Testament, not to mention the New Testament’s midrashic use of the Old, have not been handled well within evangelicalism.
My friend chimed in, “Wait a minute. There’s nothing new here? I never heard of this stuff—and I graduated from this school and had you as a teacher.” The Bible professor replied, “Our job is to protect you from this information.”
Or consider the following: it’s been known within the evangelical community to encourage promising seminary students to pursue doctoral work at major research universities, but for apologetic purposes: infiltrate their ranks, learn their ways, expose their weaknesses. Or, related, they are told to “plunder the Egyptians”—a phrase actually used. To appropriate whatever in critical scholarship can aid the cause and either ignore or fight against the rest.
And so you have three postures by this faith community toward the threat posed by the academic study of the Bible: gatekeeper, spy, or plunderer. What lies beneath these postures is a deep distrust of the academy.
But the academy isn’t just a problem for evangelicals or other conservatives. On the other end of the spectrum we have the mainline church and theological interpretation—which is a movement to recover scripture for the church (the mainline church) in the wake of the historical critical revolution, which has not always been friendly to life and faith.
This is no rejection of the academy, though. What’s done is done. We’ve passed through what Walter Wink calls the “acid bath of criticism,” which has done the necessary job of stripping us of our naïve biblicism. But now, what’s left? What do we do with the Bible? How does it function in the church? What does it say about God? What should we believe? So, whereas evangelicalism distrust the academy, the mainline has felt a bit burned by it.
What binds both groups together is the problem of the academic study of scripture for the church—though there is also an important difference between them that goes beyond simply their different attitudes toward biblical criticism. Let me explain.
Evangelicalism’s suspicion of the academy appears to be justified by the mainline church’s embrace of historical criticism at first only to wind up advocating for theological interpretation as a corrective to it. “See, I told you so. Biblical criticism is a dead end. Look at the mainline churches and their shrinking numbers. They’re on life-support. Let’s learn from their mistake, not repeat it.”
I can see the point, but not so fast. Evangelicalism can’t simply adopt as its own the mainline response to historical criticism. The mainline embraced historical-critical insights; it’s had its acid bath and is working toward, as Gadamer and others put it, a second naiveté that acknowledges the critical revolution. In other words, the mainline church is postcritical, and there is no going back to the way things were before.
Evangelicalism, by contrast, hasn’t gone through the acid bath of criticism, nor does it seek the second naiveté. They are certainly willing to acknowledge that critical scholarship has shed some light on scripture, but the overall critical “posture” as it were is largely a mistake that one should be suspicious of, guard against, infiltrate, or plunder. In a sense, the evangelical reading of scripture is more at home in the precritical world, lamenting the slow erosion of biblical authority and inerrancy at the hands of biblical criticism.
If I had to pick, I’d rather be postcritical and wounded than precritical and defensive, but this is not to say that the mainline project of theological interpretation holds the key to binding together church and the academy—at least I don’t see it yet.
For example, I remember 25 years ago reading Brevard Childs’s excellent commentary on Exodus, but feeling frustrated. He acknowledges throughout the undeniable insights of historical critical methods, and even explains the text’s incongruities on the basis of source critical analysis. But when it comes to the theological appropriation of Exodus, all his learned critical analyses is left behind—because source criticism won’t get you to theological reflection. In fact, it gets in the way.
A lot has happened since Childs, and I respect the larger project championed by Walter Brueggemann, for example, but my experience of theological interpretation in general is that the relevance of biblical criticism for the church’s life and faith can be hard to discern. It’s not always clear to me how the academy is brought constructively and intentionally into the theological life of the church.
In fact, at times I see little more than a bare acknowledgment of the “importance” or “necessity” of biblical criticism, but when it comes to theology, it’s sometimes hard to see the importance or necessity. Biblical criticism seems to be more of a negative boundary marker to distinguish the mainline from the religious right—“We’re not fundamentalists; we embrace criticism”—but where’s the payoff?
As I see it, the academy and the church have at best an uneasy relationship when it comes to the Bible, whether for evangelicals or mainliners. In my opinion, true reconciliation of academy and church must strive for a more intentionally theological synthesis of the academic study of scripture and how that contributes theologically to faith and life, to seeing—perhaps in fresh ways– how God speaks to us in and through scripture today.
As I tell the story in The Bible Tells Me SoI’ve been captured by this synthetic idea since my first few weeks of graduate school—and some of how I put the pieces together has made its way into the book, albeit on a popular churchy level (which is exactly where it needs to be). For me, one payoff of this synthesis is a Bible that is remarkably dynamic and therefore personally meaningful.
For example, when I understand Deuteronomy as a layered work that grew out of the late monarchic to postexilic periods, I get happy. I see canonized a deliberate, conscious, recontextualizion, actualizion, indeed rewriting of earlier ancient traditions for the benefit of present communities of faith.
The same holds for Chronicles—a realignment and reshaping of Israel’s story for a late postexilic audience. Or taking a big step back, we have the Old Testament as a whole, which has woven into it the exaltation of the tribe of Judah, a theme that reflects the present-day questions and answers of the postexilic Judahite writers that produced it. Scripture houses a theological dynamic that is intentionally innovative, adaptive, and contemporizing.
Scripture’s inner dynamic provides a model for our own theological appropriation of scripture. As Michael Fishbane reminds us, within scripture the authoritative text of the past is not simply received by the faithful but is necessarily adapted and built upon. And this is a noble quality of the Old Testament that continues in Second Temple Judaism and, for Christians, the New Testament, where Israel’s story is profoundly recontextualized, reshaped, and re-understood in light of present circumstances.
And what the Christian Bible does is continued as soon as the church got out of the gate in the 2nd century and beyond: reshaping the ancient Semitic story in Greek and Latin categories, giving us creeds; and then through the entire history of the church, where everywhere we look people are asking the very same question asked by the Deuteronomist, the Chronicler, and Paul:how does that back there speak to us here? 
And answering that question is a transaction between past and present that always involves some creative adaptation.
I don’t see this dynamic as a problem. It’s a gift. What more could the church want from its scripture? Don’t make a move without it, but when you move—you may need to move, not just remain where things have been. This is what I mean throughout The Bible Tells Me So when I say that the Bible is not an owner’s manual or an instruction guide.
It is a model of our own inevitable theological process, because the question is never simply what did God do then, but what is God surprisingly, 
unexpectedly, counterintuitively, in complete freedom, doing now?

Historical criticism doesn’t get a free pass—and I’m thinking here for example of Brueggemann’s critique. But it has nevertheless helped us understand something of this dynamic.

If I can put this in Christian terms, scripture bears witness to the acts of God and most supremely to the act of God in Christ. But scripture bears witness in culturally and contextually meaningful waysThis is where historical criticism comes into the picture—not as an enemy to be guarded against or plundered, and not as an awkward relative you don’t know what to do with, but as a companion, a means of understanding and embracing the complex actualizing dynamic of the Bible as a whole.

This is what I am aiming for in The Bible Tells Me So, albeit at a popular level, because that is where this discussion needs to be—with those who feel they have to chose between accepting academic insights or maintaining faith. I don’t believe that is a choice that has to be made, and miss out on a lot when we feel we need to.

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